This elegantly heartrending movie gets right to the core of some of our modern existence’s cruelest contradictions: To experience love for people and things, we must also know the sensation of losing them. With the acquaintance of delightful new friends comes the inevitability of goodbyes. Is it a manner by which the universe maintains some semblance of balance? Or is it little more than life’s cruelest hoax? These are difficult questions for anyone to ponder, but especially the young souls at the center of this delicate narrative, found in their early 20s and 30s, a time when ids still cling to the idea of being the center of one’s particular universe, yet realization of being insignificant in the vast scheme of things begins to dawn. It is also a time when many experience their insecurities and self-concerns must share space with that of others, as the frailty, the mortality of other loved ones in their lives comes suddenly to the fore.
These are the emotional currents ridden by the main character as he experiences a cruel twist of fate that leaves the young man with only a few days to live. A deal with the devil, who takes on the character’s exact same form (is there a more loathsome or frightening opponent to consider than our own selves?), presents itself: grant this demon permission to take away something from the world in exchange for one more day to live. A deliberately paced taking stock of life and connecting with those who are most important in the daydreamer’s life ensues.
Akira Nagai, a director with a surprisingly scant filmography, perfectly captures the vibrant life forces through the couple played by Takeru Sato and Miyazaki Aoi. wistfulness, outrage, despair, and wonderment are communicated naturally through their dialogue and body language. As in many Japanese films, difficulties of communication is a prominent theme. As the inextricably entwined couple grasp at what lead to their drifting apart, or a father maintains an emotional distance from his ailing wife, it feels extremely familiar, relatable.
IF CATS DISAPPEARED… joins other contemporary films from Japan (see Daihachi Yoshida’s THE KIRISHIMA THING/桐島、部活やめるってよ) that share a love of films overtly, in the actions and conversations of characters. It is a love that becomes instantly infectious as characters meet and form disarmingly sincere connections over their passions. Interactions between the main character and his film connoisseur friend he mistakenly and repeatedly calls Tsutaya (the name of a popular chain of video stores) are quirky yet show people at their most fragile and compassionate states. They also create an urge to go out and acquaint or reacquaint oneself with classic works like Lang’s Metropolis or Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together.
The parts of the story touched by magic realism are sparing yet rendered in eye-catching fashion, just enough to shake up the melancholy with a much welcome dose of wonderment. The music accompanying these scenes has an assured coolness about it to boot.
Boasting scenes of natural beauty, amidst the brilliance of waterfalls in Argentina or the sloping landscapes of Hokkaido, Japan, it is a film that effectively calls for us to marvel at life’s marvels, even in the face of the most wicked of curveballs thrown our way. Mr. Nagai, I eagerly await your next film.
IF CATS DISAPPEARED FROM THE WORLD received its North American premiere at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival June 24th, and will be shown again on Monday, June 25th, 9 PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Visit the Subway Cinema website for details and tickets.